A canal in the mangrove lagoon system of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Preserve

How to Enjoy the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve: Part I Muyil

Cancún. Tulum. Cozumel. These are places you’ve probably heard of in the Riviera Maya, that boast gorgeous beaches and a great nightlife. But did you know the Riviera Maya is also home to some of the world’s most diverse ecological systems? Take, for example, the UNESCO World Heritage site: Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

One of the many beautiful and often-deserted beaches along the route

With a name that translates to “Origin of the Sky” from the Maya language, Sian Ka’an is a stunning though little-known gem that offers visitors a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the fauna and flora of the region. This well-preserved mosaic of complex ecosystems is a must-see that boasts lush jungle terrain, pristine white sand beaches, glimmering lagoons, and mangrove forests. Sian Ka'an has two primary entry points leading to different ecological attractions: Muyil and Punta Allen. It is difficult to access both within the same day, however, it is possible to do both, as I will explain below. They were totally different experiences but equally worth it!

A guided tour through the Sian Ka'an mangrove canal connecting two freshwater lagoons, built by the Maya circa 300 A.D. to facilitate trade.

Muyil and the Mangrove Lagoon Tour

The Sian Ka'an mangrove lagoon excursion offers the following:

  1. An archaeological tour of the Muyil Mayan ruins.
  2. A boat tour through freshwater lagoons used by the Maya as trading routes as far back as 400 BC.
  3. A relaxing float and flow in healing waters down ancient canals.
  4. A nature walk through the heart of the marshy reserve.

You can easily book the tour in advance through a tour operator. However, I preferred to arrive on my own and speak with the Mayan guides directly.

The excursion begins in Muyil, a small town roughly 20 minutes past Tulum down Highway 307. Locals also call it Chunyaxche, which is the name of the Colectivo bus stop, if you are taking public transportation. Guides gather along the park entrance waiting to take passengers. The going rate as of early 2022 was $1000 pesos per person, with a minimum of 2 people. Most of the guides speak Spanish and varying degrees of English. All guides are of Maya descent and certified as part of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere program which promote a sustainable connection between people and nature, and in this case, the preservation of Maya heritage and culture.

First you will spend 20-30 minutes walking through the Muyil Mayan ruins – there is a small fee for access. Then your guide will lead you to a boat for the lagoon tour, during which you’ll learn how the ecosystem cleans water that feeds the underground river system and cenotes, see diverse wildlife, pass through canals created by the Maya for trading purposes, and see more ruins. Finally, you’ll float down the mineral-rich mangrove canal waters then take a relaxing nature hike back to the boat. The Maya had a tradition of floating down these waters to cleanse the soul, and I can see why!

Muyil Pro Tips:

  1. Arrive early. Sunscreen is not permitted as it harms the ecosystem, and the later you arrive, the stronger the sun will be!
  2. Bring a hat and a lightweight long-sleeve shirt. Helpful for those who burn easily.
  3. Carry cash. Bring at least $1000 pesos (appx. $50 USD) per person, plus tip.
  4. Bring water shoes, a towel, and water. If you forgot water, you can purchase some across the street from the Muyil ruins. Water shoes aren't essential, but are useful for the walk back to the boat.

Stay tuned for next week's post where I will cover tips on how to visit Punta Allen and enjoy the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve in Part II.

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